Veteran hockey writer Al Strachan gives his take on the Leafs' woes with his trademark snark in his now five-year-old book about the history of the ToVeteran hockey writer Al Strachan gives his take on the Leafs' woes with his trademark snark in his now five-year-old book about the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs since their last Stanley Cup win in 1967. (And yes, it will be fifty years next spring.) I grew up watching Al on the Satellite Hot Stove on Hockey Night in Canada, and I was interested not only to read his dissertation on the subject, considering his well-established connections in the hockey world, but also to compare it to the similarly timed Leafs Abomination, which aimed to accomplish the same task.
There was not much new information in Strachan's book, but I was entertained as I read through his versions of events in the Leafs' post-Cup era. Whether he is excoriating Harold Ballard, Punch Imlach, or Gerry McNamara, eviscerating 90s owner Steve Stavros, dismissing the effectiveness of Ken Dryden and Pat Quinn, or lamenting the then-recent tenure of Brian Burke, Strach has a quick and vicious wit, and he is certainly not afraid to mince words about any of these non-luminaries who have been charged with caring for the Leafs over the years.
The main appeal here, in addition to the complete lack of attempt at any kind of balance - which seems appropriate given the futility of the franchise - is that Strachan provides insightful commentary and little nuggets of information along the way. I did learn a few new things throughout the book, like the fact that Leafs would have signed Wayne Gretzky in 1996 except for Stavro's cheapness or that Ballard was a well-known anti-Semite.
But beneath all of Strachan's well-deserved vitriol is a sense of respect for the team that at one point was one of the most hallowed not only in hockey, but in all of sports, as well as a sense of hope for the future of the Leafs. Of course, in the past five years since the book was published, there has again been a meteoric rise and a more extreme crash - and I can only imagine what Strachan would write about the past few years - but we Leafs fans are still left with hope for the future.
I suppose there are a number of different audiences for the book: Leafs fans like me who are interested in the reasons behind the team's failures; hockey fans who are watching from a distance; or even fans who want to engage further in schaedenfreude as they observe the suffering of one of the NHL's most infuriatingly successful teams.
I would recommend Strachan's examination alongside Scott Feschuk and Dave Grange's Leafs Abomination as valid discussions of the team's woes, and I appreciated what both books accomplished, even if I don't really care for the fact that they had to be written in the first place. I can only hope that they are ruled obsolete in the next few years and that this current iteration of the Leafs - team and management - is not merely adding another chapter or two to Strachan's argument....more